The judge says the defendants will serve at least two-thirds of their sentence in custody, instead of the usual half.
Four people smugglers convicted of killing 39 people from Vietnam – who died in the back of a container truck while it was being shipped to England – were sentenced to between 13 and 27 years in prison.
The victims, aged 15 to 44, were found in October 2019 inside a refrigerated container that had traveled by ferry from Belgium to the port of Purfleet in eastern England. The migrants had paid smugglers thousands of dollars to take them on risky journeys to what they hoped would be a better life abroad.
Judge Nigel Sweeney told the court on Friday that the gang’s operation was “sophisticated, long-standing and profitable to smuggle mainly Vietnamese migrants across the Channel.”
He told the defendants they would serve at least two-thirds of their sentence in custody, instead of the usual half.
The judge sentenced Romanian mechanic Gheorghe Nica, 43, to 27 years, described by prosecutors as the leader of the smuggling. Northern Irish truck driver Eamonn Harrison, 24, who drove the container to the Belgian port of Zeebrugge, has been sentenced to 18 years in prison.
Trucker Maurice Robinson, 26, who collected the container in England, was sentenced to 13 years and four months in prison, while transport company boss Ronan Hughes, 41, was jailed for 20 years.
Nica and Harrison were sentenced last month after a 10-week trial. Hughes and Robinson had pleaded guilty to human trafficking and manslaughter.
Three other gang members received shorter sentences.
Prosecutors said all of the suspects were part of a gang that charged around 13,000 pounds ($ 17,000) per person to transport migrants in trailers through the Channel Tunnel or by boat.
The trapped migrants – which included a bricklayer, restaurateur, nail bar technician, aspiring beautician, and college graduate – used a metal pole to try and pierce the roof of the refrigerated container, but did not only succeeded in denting it.
Essex Police Chief Inspector Danny Stoten told court the gang “made their money out of misery”.
“They treated the victims like merchandise and they transported them in such a way that we didn’t transport animals,” he said, adding that he hoped the case would send a strong message that others involved in this activity will “suffer justice”.
The group of migrants endured scorching temperatures inside the container.
Hughes, 41, the head of the transport company, turned a blind eye during the trial to hearing tapes of the victims’ last painful moments.
In one post, a man struggled to breathe as he apologized to his family, saying, “I can’t breathe.”
“I want to come back to my family. Good life, ”he added, as the sounds of distress from the other victims were heard in the background.
Nguyen Huy Tung, whose 15-year-old son Nguyen Huy Hung died in the tragedy, said the family “didn’t believe it was the truth until we saw his body with our own eyes. ” to the hospital.
“We were very shocked, trembled, we lost track and awareness of our environment,” he added. “My wife had passed out several times each time our son’s name was mentioned.
Prosecutors said the trapped migrants were unable to get a phone signal inside the container, whose cooling system was disabled.